Commissioning the Almajiri Model Boarding Primary School in Gagi,Sokoto South Local Government Area in Sokoto State on the 10th of April 2012 by President Goodluck Jonathan was a step in the right direction as part of a fulfilment of his campaign promise to northern states.
This move signalled the commencement of the integrated Islamic education with the Western type of education system in Nigeria. Seven months into the project, other states in the north are yet to catch on and launch the programme in their states. LEADERSHIP SUNDAY takes a look at what the maiden school in Gagi has been able to achieve so far. YAHYA SARKI, who was in Sokoto, reports.
Giving every child in Nigeria the opportunity to be educated to reduce the level of poverty should be the focus of every government that means well for its citizenry. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, this has not been the case as millions of families are barely struggling to make ends meet, thus finding it difficult to put food on their tables, let alone being able to afford to send their children to school.
In most parts of northern Nigeria, begging by young children in streets has become an embarrassing phenomenon in and government after government have found the situation quite a difficult one to tackle. As part of his promise to the northern states on his campaign tour, President Goodluck Jonathan said that issue of Almajiris is a worrisome one which must be tackled.
His intention to give every child in Nigeria the opportunity to be educated and also reduce the level of begging by young children in our streets will also serve as catalyst to reducing the level of poverty through the new system of co-opting Western education with Islamic education for Almajiri children .This educational system is otherwise called the Tsangaya System of Education which is being handled by both the Federal Government and the State Governments under their State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEB).
At the inauguration of the Almajiri school in Gagi, Sokoto State, the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Fund,Prof. Mahmud Yaqub disclosed that the federal government has mapped out 5billion Naira through his office for constructing, equipping, furnishing and provision of books for 10 model boarding and day schools across the country.
Although some States in the North like Sokoto had already started the programme some years ago, the adoption of the new system by federal government has given the programme more impetus anddrawn added attention from stakeholders.
The school's entrance gate stands tall and towering, taking its design from that of a mosque. LEADERSHIP SUNDAY correspondent took a stroll inside the premises to see how the students are doing and also chat with the school administrators.He observes that many parts of the school is surrounded by weeds and overgrown grass.
Reaching the administrative building which is now connected to the labs and classes by concrete pavements throughout the school, both the administrative building and the labs that are spread across the school have similar designs of a hut, the classes on the other hand have their own usual design of a normal conventional school.
Young students between the ages of 8 and 12are neatly dressed in white uniforms, looking very neat, calm and gentle. On sighting me as I was ushered into their classby the Vice Principals of Admin and Acadamics, they shouted a loud "Good morning sir, " in unison, with beaming smiles to show how happy they were with their effort.
According to the Vice principal Administration, AbubakarMalami, the school has 28 classes but only 2 of them are being occupied by the 50 students. Primary One has 16 students while class two has 34 students. In addition, the school has a library, recitation hall for Islamic classes, language hall, recreational Hall where the students are entertained with educative videos and satellite shows, vocational hall for acquiring hand work skills, science lab, and a clinic being manned by a Nurse.
He said the government patronage on the school was excellent because the government provides feeding, uniforms and text books free of charge to the students who have been accommodated since the school was established about seven months ago.
The Vice Principal Academics of the school, Mal. SaniAbdulkadir told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that the criteria for admission into the school was strictly based on the schools rules which have stipulated that only the children of the less privileged gainsadmission. " We make sure that only the children of the less privileged are admitted ,we do not allow the children of any director or government agency into the school and this we do by scrutinizing the OBS form and other information on the child.
We have also our own ID card for parents visiting their children". He said the school has 15 Teachers in all; 5 Teachers for the formal education or the Western education in English Language, Social Studies, Maths, Science and Hausa while the 10 other teachers teach Islamic Knowledge ranging from Quran, Hadith, Tauhid, Tajweed ,Sira,andFiqh and 3 out of the 10 Islamic Teachers are ZaureIslamic Teachers, all to compliment the other Islamic teachers.
"The system of education we offer here is a little bit different from other conventional schools. In the first place we use the Islamic calendar to guide our terms, secondly we integrate the Islammiyya education with the Western type of education offering all the subjects as in normal Western education and the Islamic Education. We have four Islamic teachers that offer Islamic education from 5.30 am in the morning after the Subhi prayer to 630 am, when the children will have their breakfast, take their bath and get into their uniforms for assembly.
This is repeated after Asr prayers." On the syllabus the school uses, the VP said it was the same with other schools, only that they have adopted the system of teaching the students even the science subjects in Hausa, their mother tongue for quick understanding. This, he said they copied from other countries like Bulgaria, China and India and many developed countries that are still using their mother tongue in passing knowledge to their children although they still offer English as a language.
" If you travel to Bulgaria, China, or India for any educational purpose you must learn their language. Computer education too is in Hausa. "Malan emphasized that the school has been receiving patronage of the state government, parents too were cooperating despite the fact that many of the students are orphans and those that came from the villages.
The students in their class looked calm and keen to learn as their Teachers were passing knowledge to them. They all smiled as they talked to our correspondent in their classes. 8- year-old Dahiru Bello is in class one and says he is very happy in the school because they teach him a lot and he does not have to go out begging any more. "I am happy in this school because they teach me Tauhid, Hausa, Hadith, English and Social Studies and we have teachers in the school. And the difference with my former school of Islamiyya is that, here they feed us give us also washing soap and bathing soap. We don't go out for begging here."
12- year- old SaniDikko is the Head boy of the school and an orphan who comes from Tangaza local Government of Sokoto State. He gives the difference between his former school and the one he now attends. "Actually, it is better here than my former school because in this school, one is always exposed to reading, while in the other one, going to school is not regular and one has to go begging. Here I can eat enough food to my satisfaction. I would like to tell the government to maintain feeding us and also enroll more students into the school.
There is no doubt that the school is up and running. But with almost everything that has a positive side, there is a downside as well. The running of the school has not all been smooth sailing all the way. One major problem or challenge the school is facing is the problem of electricity.
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY learnt that the school has not been connected to PHCN yet; with their source of power a generator which is quite costly to maintain, especially with the scarcity of fuel.
The VP called on the government to address the issue of electricity in the school. Apart from that is the fact that, from LEADERSHIP SUNDAY's observation, the school is surrounded by weeds; something that could make the children vulnerable to different types of diseases or attract snakes to the school. There is also the fact that the school has also not been able to enrol more students since the first set was enrolled in April.
Speaking with the school Principal Mal. UbaidullahShehu on the phone, he told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that since its establishment, the school has been performing above expectation with the 50 students and 15 Teachers who started the programme. " The journey so far has been a story of success, when we started with these 50 Almajiri students they could not read nor write, but now the students can read and write.
Our major challenges in the school has been electricity, the school is not connected to NEPA and the need for additional bore holes because the only bore hole in the school is located at the mosque area, so we need another one at the students dormitory.
The patronage from Government has been commendable, food supply to the school as well as other materials such as toiletries like bathing soap, washing detergents, uniforms ,shoes and textbooks and stationary are all free for the students."
On the enrolment of new students, the Principal confirmed that additional 160 students would soon be enrolled in the next few weeks to come according what his superior told him. "The enrolment process is gradual in order to allow for easy handling of students because the school is a new school."
He also explained that the reason the school premises has been over grown by weeds was as a result of the holiday break and the rainy season, but assured that he has ordered quick environmental sanitation by hired labourers.
The supervising organ of the system, the State Universal Basic Education Board ( SUBEB) was satisfied with the performance of the system as well and the Executive Chairman of the Board Professor Musa GarbaMaitabsir confirmed to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that the system has been going on well with the 50 students and that additional students would be enrolled.
According to him the system is not new to Sokotostate because the state has already established anIslamiyya school in DengeShuni where the Western and Islamic Education are integrated. Federal Government, he said copied from Sokoto State.
" You know there are two programmes , we have Tsangaya programme that was under ETF; that was the one flagged off by President Jonathan and we have 7 Almajiri Schools constructed under UBE that will soon take off.
They are all integrated under one system. So you see we are already used to the system. In terms of patronage from students, we don't have a problem, 80 per cent of the students are less privileged. Our Teachers have also been trained in this regard "
For now, the Almajiri Education has been going on according to plan and some level of success has been achieved at the Gagi Almajiri Model Boarding School in Sokoto .There is the need for all stake holders to maintain or even improve upon the current tempo, especially in the area of enrolment. States that are yet to launch the programme should also cash in and do so with immediate effect.